Team, field has new look

oe Murphy

Kent State’s Gene Michael Field was not a natural beauty.

So when the decision was made to give it a face-lift, the Flashes understood the process was going to take time. After all, ducks don’t immediately turn into swans.

So the team waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

And after playing its first 22 games of the baseball season on the road, Kent State (13-9, 2-1 Mid-American Conference) is ready for the inaugural home opener of Schoonover Stadium. The debut comes today at 3 p.m. in a MAC battle against Ohio (6-12, 1-2 MAC). Today’s game will be the first of a three-game series with the Bobcats. Tomorrow and Sunday’s games will both be at 1 p.m.

While the team has missed the comforts of home, don’t throw too much pity its way. Kent State has played two weekend series in South Carolina and a week in Bradenton, Fla.

This year’s team remains virtually intact from last year’s championship club. But the Flashes, who were picked to finish second in the MAC East in the preseason coaches’ poll, have a revamped right side of the infield and a few changes on the mound. No change has been any bigger than first-year coach Scott Stricklin. The former Kent State catcher replaces Rick Rembielak, who went to Wake Forest, in the dugout. Stricklin will benefit from having 19 returning letter winners on his roster.

The Flashes were tested early this season with two matchups against top-25 teams, dropping a 15-11 decision to No. 23 Coastal Carolina and out-slugging No. 21 Winthrop, 11-10.

After a slow start, Kent State’s pitching has come alive recently. But now, the offense has struggled after a fast start. The problem has been getting both to come alive at the same time.

The Flashes look to regain the swagger they maintained during a five-game winning streak, which they split between the end of the Bradenton series and the beginning of MAC play at Toledo. But after starting MAC play 2-0, the Flashes only managed one run in a 4-1 loss against Toledo. The loss was followed three days later by a 12-2 pounding at the hands of Pittsburgh.

Sophomore pitcher John Pacella had a shaky outing in Wednesday’s game against the Panthers. Pacella, one of several starters in the midweek rotation, was unable to make it out of the second inning, giving up eight runs on just four hits, while hitting three batters.

Jason Brunke, Evan Smith and Chad Wagler are anchoring the starting rotation after the departure of All-American pitcher Andy Sonnanstine. Wagler, who spent last season in the bullpen as a reliever and closer, has been impressive in his starts so far. The junior is 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA.

University of Cincinnati transfer Drew Saylor has not missed a step at second base, filling in for departed Matt Sega. The junior leads the team with a .409 batting average. Saylor had his 13-game hitting streak snapped Wednesday in the loss at Pittsburgh. He is second on the team with two home runs, behind Kurt Eichorn with four. Eichorn, a junior utility player, leads with 29 RBIs, too. Eichorn has started all 22 games, but rarely at the same position. He has split time between right and left field, catcher and designated hitter.

Contact baseball reporter Joe Murphy at [email protected].